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African sportswomen find creative ways to play their sports and earn an income

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South Africa's Van Wyk explains her struggles getting started (1:32)

South Africa captain Janine van Wyk explains how she made ends meet while playing football. (1:32)

For a select few in women's sport, the privilege of earning a high salary from a young age is finally becoming attainable, but for most African sportswomen a 'day job' is still par for the course, and an overseas move is the ticket to financial freedom.

Male athletes can earn well from an earlier age, with high salaries, sponsorships, and commercial deals setting them up for early retirement if managed well. A teenage Wayne Rooney, for example, started his Everton career at £13,000 a week. In 2003.

However, the bulk of Africa's, or even the world's, professional female athletes often need to find alternate streams of income, or rely on family support. For every Alex Morgan or Asisat Oshoala who earn well, there are thousands of talented athletes who juggle jobs and teams.

Even in high-profile professional leagues, like the National Women's Soccer League in the U.S., fringe players or those who don't represent national teams [and thus earn good money] can earn a base salary of $20,000 for the season [as of 2020], while the men in MLS make upwards of $350,000 as a base salary.

So for African women who want to play at a high level, often without a local league that pays a living wage, keeping going requires innovative approaches to funding, and often an assist from family.

The club owner

For Janine van Wyk, South Africa's most capped footballer [for both senior national teams], the answer to playing regular football was to start her own football club, JVW FC, back when there wasn't an established women's league in her country.

Van Wyk has captained Banyana Banyana since 2013, been to the Olympics twice, the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2019, and Africa Cup of Nations finals, but only got her first real professional break, at the Houston Dash in the U.S. in 2017, when she was nearly 30.

In contrast, Portia Modise, the legendary Banyana skipper before Van Wyk, retired from football at 31 after 15 years on the national team, becoming the first African footballer to score 100 international goals. She played only two years of professional football, in Denmark.

Now at Glasgow City FC, Van Wyk played for Moroka Swallows and Palace Super Falcons before forming JVW FC in 2012 and serving as a player-coach for her own club. During the early stages of her career, she earned extra income through coaching at schools.

"It was extremely difficult for me -- playing and still trying to earn an income. Luckily for me, I had my parents always supporting me, so I didn't really need to leave home. I stayed with them; they fed me and took real good care of me while I was concentrating on building a career for myself," van Wyk told ESPN.

"Both Moroka Swallows and Palace Super Falcons could pay us players a minimal salary a month -- something that would have been seen as transport money to get to and from training and nothing more than that.

"On the side, I had a few jobs working at schools coaching football, especially boys [and] coaching other sports like cricket and hockey just to earn a little bit of money on the side while I could still concentrate on my career -- and then obviously one-on-one sessions with young girls who wanted to get to that next level."

Banyana Banyana are one of the most accomplished African women's national teams. On five occasions, they have finished as runners-up at the Africa Cup of Nations. However, when van Wyk made her international debut in 2005, the national team setup was far from professional behind the scenes.

Nevertheless, many players viewed Banyana as their path out of poverty. In a country widely reported to be the most unequal in the world, it is unsurprising that even though van Wyk's parents were there to support her, she had teammates who were facing severe financial pressures.

She explained: "Playing with the national team has always been an honour and a privilege. Even though we didn't earn a lot of money back then, we do earn a little bit more now compared to when I first started.

"We used to get money in an envelope back then, and right now, it actually gets paid into our bank accounts.

"It was extremely difficult, but a lot of girls wanted to reach the national team, because they knew they would get some sort of incentive to represent their country and a lot of players come from really underprivileged backgrounds.

"They don't have the resources -- they don't have the capacity and capital to go and pursue careers in something else. For them, the aim was to get into the national team to open up doors for themselves, to get bursaries overseas and so on."

The player-turned-coach

While van Wyk opted not to immerse herself in academia, former Nigeria star Mercy Akide-Udoh took precisely that path when she received a scholarship to study at Milligan College in Tennessee.

Off the back of her superb display for the Super Falcons at the 1999 World Cup, the striker moved to the USA, where she later played for San Diego Spirit in the country's first professional women's soccer league, the Women's United Soccer Association [WUSA].

Since hanging up her boots, the former Hampton Roads Piranhas player has moved into coaching. Currently, she presides over Regent University Women and is the assistant teams director at Steel United.

Nigeria has made a significant investment in women's football, and according to Akide-Udoh, she did not need a job outside of playing football even before she left for the USA.

Akide-Udoh, who studied education and communication at Milligan, told ESPN: "I was just playing. I was not doing any other job in Nigeria. Nobody was working except the [women's players] who were not making teams and had their careers planned already.

"I got out from high school and just focused on playing the game until I got to the States when I got a scholarship to go to Milligan College. Then, I just focused on playing for the college team because they gave me so much money for my education."

-- Read: Janine van Wyk's love of football drove her through injury hell

-- Read: Zenatha Coleman is Namibia's lone voice for football equality

Nigerian football clubs are generally owned by the government, which invests in both the men's and women's leagues. That being said, Akide-Udoh was paid enough for food and lodging, not the millions a teen footballer would aspire to earn today. And it certainly was never enough to retire on.

Akide-Udoh explained: "The money was not that much, but at least it took care of us. We were young; we didn't really know that much about wearing $30,000 worth of wigs, nice shoes and nice clothes... They provided food and shelter for us.

"When we were playing, it was difficult, but it helped a lot of us [to avoid] getting in trouble. I will speak for myself... Soccer really helped a lot to not get in trouble and keep my mind focused on what I wanted to do in life."

Akide-Udoh added that conditions for women's footballers in Nigeria have improved even further since, but insisted her country is still some distance behind the USA in this regard.

The 1999 African Women's Footballer of the Year said: "We still need to go a long way. Being here [in the USA] and seeing what they are doing for the US [women's] national team and also for the university [women's team] is mind-blowing."

Through her Play2Learn programme, Akide-Udoh hopes to scout players in Nigeria and send them to universities in the USA to follow in her footsteps.

The prison guard

The netball career of Zimbabwe captain Felisitus Kwangwa, the former Correctional Queens star who was signed by the UK's Surrey Storm for the 2021 season, is testament to how complex working and playing a sport in Africa can be.

Like Akide-Udoh's team in Nigeria, many sports teams in Zimbabwe are owned and funded by the government. Kwangwa worked as a corrections officer in Zimbabwe, but was able to make a living mostly from playing netball... as long as she kept being selected for the Queens, via the correctional services department which funded her team.

Being paid to play allowed her to keep focusing on sport rather than her general duties as an officer, but there was no room for error. No selection would mean going to serve in one of her country's most dangerous prisons.

"In prisons and correctional services, they are trying to promote sport for officers -- and even the professional athletes, because it's quite hard to get sponsorship... Your talent in any sport was your passport to get a job," Kwangwa told ESPN.

"They [Correctional Services] approached our provincial youth games coach and said: 'We are looking for young girls to join the service, but we want them to play netball.'

"If anything needed attention, especially when we were short-staffed, that's when I went to general duties. I think in the seven years that I've been in the service, I might have gone to execute general duties for two months.

"If you are part of the team, you are just going to play the sport you are good at. If you don't make it in the team or you are offloaded or anything, that's when you go back to general duties."

After being scouted, the goal defender opted to join Correctional Services and informed her reluctant father, pledging to pay her way through university in addition. So while working and playing netball, she's also been, and still is, a university student.

Kwangwa continues with her honours degree in economic history at the University of Zimbabwe, where she is also the netball coach. Classes are online for now, but in July she will have to return for exams.

The coronavirus pandemic was disastrous for those players not part of state-funded teams, though, as private companies were forced to cut salaries.

Kwangwa explained: "[COVID-19] made it quite difficult for a lot of girls -- especially those who are not part of the uniformed forces teams. We also have an army netball team, the air force, and police.

"Their players were not really affected, because they still got their salaries as usual. For those who were being sponsored by companies, it became really hard for the companies to upkeep that."

Ultimately, Kwangwa's correctional services gamble paid off. After excelling for Zimbabwe's national team in their eighth-place finish at the 2019 Netball World Cup in Liverpool, she was scouted to join the Storm in the UK's televised Netball Superleague.

However, she was unable to secure a work permit until Zimbabwe rose into the top 12 of the International Netball Federation (INF) World Rankings. Eventually, she was signed for the 2021 season, and according to sources will earn around £6000 [approx. $8400] for the five-month season.

As for the quality of netball, the Superleague has been an eye-opener for Kwangwa, who said: "[The performance levels] are significantly better [in the UK] than back home.

"I can draw back to the development of the countries in general... Africa is still developing. Especially when it comes to athletes' well-being, the fitness levels and everything -- the way they try to make sure an athlete improves is quite different to what they do at home.

"I'm glad that when [Zimbabwe] are competing at the biggest stage, nobody knows that we don't have those other things that a lot of other teams are privileged to have. Given the same preparations as other teams, I think we could be in the top three [worldwide] in a few years to come."

The shoemaker

In Nigeria, basketball is generally viewed as the second most popular sport behind football. There has been investment in the women's game in this sporting code too, but not enough to sustain everyone who plays it at the highest level.

COVID-19 brought new challenges as basketball was put on hold. Ukamaka Okoh, who plays for Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries Queens Basketball [MFM Queens], used the opportunity to grow her shoe business, Foot Maka.

"Basketball, like most sports in Nigeria, is run mostly by the government. So, this makes it difficult to professionalise the sport. The truth is: aside from learning the rudiments of the game and [being] driven by passion to continue, there's nothing in it in Nigeria," Okoh told ESPN.

"Most of us involved in the game are hoping and praying that an overseas deal will happen soon.

"So, there's no money in basketball in Nigeria, although I must admit that some organisations running clubs, like Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries and First Bank, are doing well in terms of paying what they promised their players."

Even though she is happy with her team's efforts to compensate her and her teammates, Okoh is driven in her off-court venture by a passion for shoemaking and a quest for an income stream that will last beyond her basketball career.

"I've been making shoes for over six years now. I think last year gave me a blessing in disguise because I had more time to make my designs, more time to perfect my craft and more time to make shoes for clients. It's made me learn a lot," she said.

After her basketball career, she hopes to expand Foot Maka, adding: "You know, you're not going to do sport forever.

"Looking at my shoe-making business, I'm looking at creating a small factory where I can produce in larger quantities, because I can't do that right now because of my environment and the things I do [playing basketball]."

The lawyer

While basketball is football's closest competitor in terms of sporting influence in Nigeria, rugby union is South Africa's second biggest sport. However, the disparity in terms of development between men's and women's rugby is even greater than in football.

While South African women's football has produced several professional players -- albeit only after they moved overseas -- rugby only recently produced its first.

None of Babalwa Latsha's newfound fame in South Africa was earned without a fight. Born in Khayelitsha in March 1994, a month before South Africa's first democratic election, her chances of becoming a qualified lawyer were slim and the odds of becoming a professional rugby player next to none.

Latsha, who fell in love with rugby after being introduced to the game at the SA Rugby Legends Association's 2014 VUKA programme, had to fight for both dreams simultaneously.

She earned an LLB degree from the University from the Western Cape in 2019 and signed her first professional rugby contract with SD Eibar Femenino a year ago. This was a particularly tall order during the COVID-19 pandemic, which ultimately denied her a return to Spain in 2021.

Latsha now has to play a delicate balancing act between keeping her new hard-earned career on track and continuing her legal studies.

"Furthering my studies is still a desire of mine. However, my focus has shifted to the task at hand, which is preparing as best I can for the World Cup," Latsha told ESPN.

The tournament in New Zealand, which was scheduled to take place in September and October 2021, has been postponed until 2022 due to coronavirus concerns.

Latsha did not, however, postpone her activism or her study plans.

"The legal knowledge does come in handy off the field. As you know, I now serve on Rugby Africa's subcommittee for player welfare and participation," said Latsha, who is also a board member of Women Who Do Wonders International and often promotes charitable causes.

"It's quite interesting how the knowledge comes to the fore sometimes outside of rugby and it brings me back to the passion I have and that I've always had to make a positive impact -- to make a difference, whether using legal knowledge or otherwise."

African women are finding unique solutions to the problem of limited financial opportunities within their sports. In some countries, structural support is greater than others.

One constant, however, is that for those looking to make a substantial living from playing sport without a second job, or to sustain them after retirement, the grass remains greener overseas.